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Imagine receiving the phone call that informs you that there was a shooting at your child’s school and they didn’t make it. You had no idea that when you walked them to the bus stop that morning it would be the last time you saw their face. In the last decade alone there have been over 200 school shootings in the United States alone. That is a starting statistic that reflects a major issue in this country. In this essay I will cover the reasons why there needs to be a policy that every school in America should have security systems as well as plans in place in order to prevent violence and in some instances, death. April 20, 1999 was the day that one of the most well known school shootings took place. If you were to ask individuals where they were when they first heard about the Columbine shooting I’m almost positive they would remember vividly. It was such a startling event that shook America.
Two students, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris went on a shooting and bombing spree at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. The result was 15 dead students and 24 wounded as well as the suicide of the two students. The shooting consisted of around 900 rounds as well as bombs that were found placed around the school. This terrible event in school was a wake up call for many. No one expects that when they go to school they won’t come home and this incident put this exact thought into the minds of many Americans. In a nationwide survey conducted by the CDC, about 6% of students had missed school at least 1 day during the 30 days prior to taking the survey for the reason that they felt unsafe at school or on their way to or from school. In regards to recent cases of violence in American schools, the well being of students and security have become a topic of interest. School safety is far more than just student violence. School safety involves anything that has a negative impact on the well-being of the students and the school as a whole. It is imperative to create a safe atmosphere in which students feel like they can do their best. Although I feel a policy for schools to have security in place is a must I believe there needs to be balance so schools don’t become a place of tension.
If security methods and procedures become the main focus it will take away the point of education and it could create tension for students. This being said, there are ways to incorporate plans and rules that are less harsh in order to keep students safe. The first of the methods of security that would be implemented by this policy are security cameras, this would help hold students accountable for fighting, breaking the rules, etc. The second would be school ID’s worn in order to get into the school. This would stop outsiders from getting inside schools that are currently very easy to do so. Lastly, security systems such as metal detectors or security guards would protect students especially in areas prone to violence and gun usage. It would also provide safety for students because it would make bringing in weapons almost impossible. I think all of these methods of providing a safe environment need to go hand in hand with providing a comfortable atmosphere. Schools are generally safe spaces. After the last decade of school shootings and school violence there have likely to report fear of harm or attack at school (6.3%) than those interviewed before the incident (4.8%). However, most schools are safe places and in reality most kids are safer in school than they are outside of them. As Watson and Watson said in the preface of their book The School As a Safe Haven, “Most schools are safe-we know that-and we do not wish by writing this book to scare anyone and put false impressions in their heads.”
Overall, the crime that does exist continues to drop to even smaller numbers. Between 1995 and 2001, the percentage of students who reported being victims of crime at school decreased from 10% to 6%. This included a decrease in theft (from 7% to 4%) and a decrease in violent victimization (from 3% to 2%) over the same time period. The 2000 Annual Report on School Safety released by the Department of Education and Justice found that “Violent deaths at school are extremely rare. Thirty-four violent deaths were reported in 1998-99, compared to the high of 49 deaths reported in 1995-96. These numbers are significant in pointing out that schools are a safe place for almost all kids and that security, while a concern, should not be the main priority of school administrators.Over the past few years, especially since the incident at Columbine, many schools have increased their security to resemble that of a prison. These high measures, although their intentions may be good, can make learning a second priority and have other negative effects on students that administrators often forget. Fear of lawsuits and loss of funds may fuel these extreme measures but it does not mean that they are always the best bet.
In the mid-90’s a school system in Dallas, Texas opened a new 41 million dollar high school. The school had 37 surveillance cameras, six metal detectors, intruder-resistance gates, catwalks above the cafeteria, and perimeter lighting around the entire 70 acre campus. Although each school system is unique and what is right for one may not be for another, this example is ludicrous. Tom Latham, a recently retired law enforcement officer in Garland Texas said “A 10-foot fence is absolutely ridiculous…Students need to know they’re in a safe place, and this doesn’t tell them that.” The goal of a school’s security should not be turning a school into a fortress. As Dr. Gordon Crews and Jeffrey Tipton point out in their article A Comparison of Public School and Prison Security Measures: Too Much of a Good Thing?, there are many similarities between schools with overbearing security and prison. These similarities include metal detectors, ID badges, a uniform or clothing standard, use of 2-way radios, resource of correctional officers, locked perimeter doors, and controlled movements. An over controlled environment could negatively affect individual creativity and intellectual development as students become forced to conform to new rules and regulations concerning school security practices. According to Dr. Crews these new measures “come at the cost of sacrificing the overall experience of being students and achieving in the classroom environment. He also says that another effect of increased security may be the mistrust students develop towards the school administration. If students see they are surrounded by high security measures they might think that they should be worried or that the administrators are not telling them something. The mistrust will inhibit instead of promote open communication between the administration and the student body. Students may become more concerned with their safety instead of their academic performance, which of course is their main reason for actually being in the school.
There are many ways that schools can remain safe without making students feel like they are serving a life sentence. These more subtle tactics include building security into the environmental design, limiting public use of the school, the creation of crisis plans, the use of resource officers and communicators, cameras, and photo ID cards. The design of a school can greatly influence the overall safety of the environment. Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) helps schools choose building layouts and features that promote desired behavior. It does things like limiting the number of entrances to buildings, establishing boundaries between the school and connected properties, and making sure that the administrative offices have a clear view of the main entry, parking lots, and play areas. It’s something that should be done in the future planning of every school to help prevent violence and crimes in schools.
Schools are often the center for communities, and often hold activities after school activities that may not be school related. Without completely restricting access to schools after hours, there are things that can be done to make sure certain areas remain off access, thus decreasing the chances of vandalism, theft, or anything else that affects the safety of the school environment. One thing that can be done is to restrict after hours access to a small area of the school. For example if there is a basketball league that uses the school’s gym on the weekend, school officials should make sure hallways that aren’t being used are closed off. New schools should be based on designs where the potential public areas have a separate entrance so the rest of the building can be shut down.
Another, subtle but safe security measure is the creation and use of crisis plans. If trouble occurs at schools, administrators should know how to react. Instead of making important decisions amidst a scene of chaos, officials should have comprehensive crisis plans in anticipation of problems. These crisis plans should map out what is to happen if something goes wrong. Schools should conduct crisis training and practice drill regularly. They should address potential problems like fires, school shootings, or terrorist activities. Resource officers or security guards are another way to keep schools safe. “A 2001 survey of resource officers by the National Association of School Resource Officers found that 92 percent of the officers said they had prevented one to 25 acts of violence per school year, and 94 percent said that students had told them ahead of time about violent incidents that were supposed to take place.” These resource officers don’t have to be uniformed, sworn municipal police officers. To make the security seem more seamless, these security guards could be dressed in casual clothing. Of course there would have to be more than one in order to be able to monitor the entire school. At the time of the Columbine shooting, they only had one security guard. These security guards, and also school administrators, could also be equipped with communicators, like 2-way radios, to even further help connect all areas of the school.
If there are more funds available for a school’s security system, closed circuit television cameras are a cost effective way to provide security. Although they are slightly noticeable, they will not intrude on the students activities. Instead they may stop acts of violence or crimes simply by their constant presence. Declining costs allow schools to cover more space more effectively and also monitor student behavior. According to Don Henley’s Safety by Design, cameras are “most effective when they are used to observe public corridors, stairwells and exterior doors, as well as larger spaces during school like the cafeteria and gymnasium.” However cameras can become somewhat unnecessary if they are not being monitored. If Columbine’s cameras were being monitored perhaps they would have seen the students bring in the bombs and their plot might have been uncovered. A very simple way to improve security measures at a school is through the use of photo ID’s. They are a very cost effective way to identify students, staff, and visitors to a school. On a basic level, with proper technology, they can also be used to check out library materials or act as a pass to student activities. The more uses it has for a school, the more cost-effective it becomes. Unlike metal detectors, they are less overbearing and imposing. Students may even like the idea of having an ID card, and it can also booster school spirit. Identification cards are an effective way of controlling security in a school without.
As crime and violence continue to occur in the nations’ schools, security will continue to be a topic concern. However, the popular view that more is always better has its downsides and should be reconsidered. Increased security comes at the expense of students’ academic performance, individuality, and overall development. Instead of trying to turn schools into fortresses administrators should employ more subtle tactics that will address the problem without stifling students. Things like crisis plans, the environmental design, limiting of public use, and photo ID’s are all ways that will create a safe environment while allowing students to grow through their years at school.
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